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Report Recommends More Access to Court Records

Media statement 2 August 2006

Law Commission Recommends Increased Access to Court Records

Embargoed Until: 1 Pm, Wednesday 2 August 2006

The Law Commission has recommended a more open and clear regime for access to court records.

“In places the current access rules resemble a dog’s breakfast,” says President, Sir Geoffrey Palmer. “They are often unclear, vary from one jurisdiction to another, and some courts have no access rules at all.”

The Commission’s report, Access to Court Records, was tabled in Parliament today, 2 August 2006. It recommends a new Court Information Act based on a presumption of open access to court records, limited only by principled reasons for denying access. Such reasons would include the protection of sensitive information, (particularly in cases involving children or vulnerable people), court orders or statutory prohibitions on the release of information.

“Many members of the public have an interest in what happens in the courts and rely on the media reporting,” says Sir Geoffrey. “The regime we recommend will assist the media and aid accurate reporting and the free flow of information to the community about the judicial process.”

The Commission recommends that a reporter should not have to have been physically present in the court room in order to obtain copies of court records that were produced or relied upon in the open hearing.

The new Act should be implemented by detailed rules of court in all jurisdictions, except the Coroner’s Court.

The report’s recommendations include:

- a presumption that court records will be accessible unless there is good reason to withhold them;

- greater public access at the time of a court hearing to material that is before the court, to ensure accuracy of reporting and improve public understanding and scrutiny of court proceedings;

- increased public access to court records after the hearing (and the end of any appeal period);

- greater availability of information about future hearings by way of on-line access to court calendars;

- a separate procedure for researchers requiring access to records.

The Commission also recommends that fees charged for access to and copying of court records should be reasonable, and should not undermine any access provisions.

ENDS

A copy of the publication will be available on the Law Commission website http://www.lawcom.govt.nz from 1pm on 2 August 2006.

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